Humanities Center

Visiting Scholars

David George Haskell, "Sounds Wild and Broken"

Thursday, April 20th

Rowland Taylor Recital Hall - PAC 134, 5:30 PM, FREE

David Haskell standing in front of a wall of ivy.

Introduction by Dr. Alisa Wade.

Sonic communication was a late-comer to the evolution of life on Earth. But once song got started, the links that it forged became powerful generative forces. Today, the diverse sounds around us from chirping crickets, to birdsong, to the human music in our earbuds reveal the many layers of this evolutionary and cultural creativity. Yet sonic diversity is also threatened, especially in rainforests and the oceans. Sound is alsoften undervalued in conservation efforts and, more broadly, in our society that privileges sight over all other senses. Using examples from his own explorations of sound, Haskell will show how attention to the sensory richness of the world, especially its sonic dimensions, can root and guide environmental ethics and action.

David Haskell is a writer and a biologist. His latest book, Sounds Wild and Broken, explores the story of sound on Earth. Starting with the origins of animal song and traversing the whole arc of Earth history, he illuminates and celebrates the emergence, diversification, and loss of the sounds of our world, including human music and language. The New York Times selected the book as an “Editor’s Choice”. His previous books, The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees are acclaimed for their integration of science, poetry, and rich attention to the living world. Among their honors include the National Academies’ Best Book Award, John Burroughs Medal, finalist for Pulitzer Prize, Iris Book Award, Reed Environmental Writing Award, National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, and runner-up for the PEN E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. Haskell received his BA from the University of Oxford and PhD from Cornell University. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a Guggenheim Fellow, and William R. Kenan Jr. Professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, USA. Find him at and on social media @DGHaskell (Twitter), DavidGeorgeHaskell (Instagram and Facebook).

Visiting Scholars from earlier this year...

JJJJJerome Ellis on September 22nd

JJJJJerome is curled up naked laying in an open fieldIn this talk, stutterer and artist JJJJJerome Ellis picks up where his 2021 book and album The Clearing left off, meditating on intersections between blackness, stuttering, nature, music, and time.  A book signing will follow. 

Jerome Ellis is an animal, stutterer, and artist. He was raised by Jamaican and Grenadian immigrants in Tidewater, VA, where he prays, gardens, and resides among the egrets and asters. Through music, literature, performance, and video he researches relationships among blackness, disabled speech, divinity, nature, sound, and time. He dreams of building a sonic bath house!

 *This event is co-sponsored by READI, the new hub for Research in Equity, Antiracism, Diversity and Inclusion, housed in the Office of Faculty Development.

Dr. Melissa Warak on October 20th

Dr. Melissa Warak is smiling looking straight aheadIn recent years, more and more contemporary sound artists have merged aesthetic concerns with politicized content to use sound, music, or silence as vehicles for nuanced takes on issues of identity, representation, and geo-political realities. Dutch composer Louis Andriessen wrote the following of music, though it applies equally to contemporary sound art: “Good composers only rarely strive for something which people call beautiful. They want to pose problems, not to solve them.” This talk situates sound as a field of art and, in particular, contemporary sculpture in terms of sonic output and engagement with social issues, history, and memory. Based on Dr. Warak’s forthcoming book, the lecture will assess six sculptures by Janet Cardiff, Kara Walker, Nick Cave, Christine Sun Kim, Ragnar Kjartansson, and Phil Collins. 

Dr. Melissa Warak is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work focuses on the roles of sound and music in art after the 1950s, and her forthcoming book Sounding Things Out: Sonic Sculpture and the Performative Impulse examines sound-producing sculpture made after 2000. In addition to serving as a senior scientist on a large National Science Foundation grant in Critical Zone science of the desert Southwest, she also has a Mellon-funded grant related to the role of disability representation in art.

Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz on February 23rd 

Professor from UCLA, Jessica Schwartz

On March 1, 1954, the US military detonated “Castle Bravo,” its most powerful nuclear bomb, at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Two days later, the US military evacuated the Marshallese to a nearby atoll where they became part of a classified study, without their consent, on the effects of radiation on humans. This talk draws from Jessica A. Schwartz’s recently published book, Radiation Sounds: Marshallese Music and Nuclear Silences (Duke UP 2021) to delve into the musical consequences of US nuclear weapons testing and radiological testing in the Marshall Islands. It outlines seventy-five years of Marshallese music developed in response to US nuclear militarism on their homeland. Unpacking “radiation songs” that amplify the impacts of “insensible” radiation on humans and nonhumans, Schwartz shows how Marshallese singing draws on religious, cultural, and political practices to make heard the deleterious effects of US nuclear violence that have often been silenced across levelsfrom the governmental to the corporeal. Placing the aural and sensorial in understanding nuclear testing’s long-term effects, Schwartz offers new modes of understanding the relationships between the voice, sound, and militarism through decolonizing challenges to the imposition of harmony and possibilities for (global) abolition.

Jessica A. Schwartz is an associate professor of musicology at the Herb Alpert School of Music at the University of California-Los Angeles. Schwartz’s work focuses on critical, creative, and poetic dissent from an interrogation of sonic histories and musical representations of imperial and military violence, as explored in Radiation Sounds: Marshallese Music and Nuclear Silences (Duke 2021), American Quarterly, and Women & Music, as well as DIY/punk musicality/philosophy/education in Punk Pedagogies: Music, Culture and Learning andthe journal Punk & Post-Punk. Schwartz is the Academic Advisor to and co-founder of the Marshallese Educational Initiative (501c3), co-hosts the Punkast Series (a podcast series), and plays noise/experimental guitar.


The 2022-2023 Humanities Center theme, Soundscapes, explores perceptions and interpretations of acoustic environments in their respective cultural, political, and spatial contexts.  Ranging from the sounds of nature to a multitude of expressive forms such as music, poetry, dance, and storytelling, every culture has created distinctive soundscapes that shape our daily experiences and mediate our relationships to the world.  Events will highlight interdisciplinary humanities research and creative activity on this year’s theme. 

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